For some political junkies, last week’s scandals involving Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) allegedly having extramarital affairs with five women and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley having at least one icky phone conversation with his top aide, Rebekah Mason, have been an endless source of fodder for the airwaves, the newspaper pages and the sewers of social media, where anyone can be a pundit.
How does this impact the presidential horse race? What does it mean for the looming Mike Hubbard trial? What does this mean for the apparently crucial female millennial vote?
Sure, those are excellent questions if you live, eat, sleep and die for this stuff, or if you just love the scintillating, juicy gossip of public figures. Whatever the reason may be, does any of this actually move the needle in terms of actual policy affecting the day-to-day lives of Americans?
I would argue it has very little to do with our day-to-day lives. But that won’t stop campaigns from making you think as much.
In 2010 as President Barack Obama was about to sign the so-called Obamacare legislation into law, Vice President Joe Biden whispered in his ear, “This is a big f—ing deal.”
Although he could have gotten his point across in a much classier way, Biden was right. The 2010 Affordable Care Act has impacted millions of Americans, some for the better and many for the worse, much more than any defense omnibus spending bill, federal budget, debt ceiling adjustment or any of the other last-ditch efforts we have seen over the past six years cobbled together by the commander-in-chief and Congress to prevent a government shutdown.
So when you’re looking at what is happening in Washington, D.C., or Montgomery, Alabama, if you put it in the context of how this moves the needle in terms of actual policy, it’s hard to see how any politician’s zipper problem really matters.
So ask yourself, what does Spencer Collier’s feud with Gov. Bentley really mean to me personally? How will Donald Trump’s Twitter tirades shape U.S. foreign policy?
Certainly as a taxpayer who pays the salaries of people elected to office, you would prefer they act in a moral and ethical manner. You want public servants who are free of unnecessary distractions and who hold the public trust in high regard.
However, will any of this matter when people make their way to the polling precinct, wait in line — in some cases for five hours in last week’s Arizona GOP primary — and cast a ballot for their candidate?
“Oh, candidate XYZ is a serial adulterer? I better change my vote for candidate ABC!”
In all likelihood, supporters of the candidate with the baggage will just stay at home on primary day and tune out altogether.
The bigger picture, however, is that such a consequence could hurt the Republican Party as a whole, thereby helping Democratic Party candidates win office. To be sure, one can attribute much of this to the way politics is covered by the media.
Flash back to 1998: Bill Clinton faced impeachment. The feeding frenzy was on. It was not only wall-to-wall coverage on cable news, but broadcast news as well. Ultimately Clinton survived. But what came of it?
Clinton remained a lame duck. And Al Gore still almost pulled off winning the presidential election nearly two years later.
Whether it is in the name of earning higher ratings or promoting a certain point of view, over the last 10 years political candidates and movements have been presented on cable news outlets much as ESPN’s “SportsCenter” would show highlights from last evening’s sporting events.
Press coverage now includes delegate counts talked about like they are the Major League Baseball National League East standings. Iowa and New Hampshire polling data is viewed as if it is the Associated Press preseason college football top 25.
All of this has an impact on the electorate. When you start framing things in those terms, you create rivalries like Alabama and Auburn football — just substitute Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. Instead of “The Paul Finebaum Show” being the sounding board for the opposing factions, it’s political talk radio.
But politics isn’t supposed to be a trivial thing like spectator sports. This is serious stuff. These are our tax dollars, military, social fabric, foreign policy, etc.!
For a lot of people who don’t get emotionally invested in politics, none of that is the case. To them, those seeking to obtain power have been embroiled in scandal throughout western civilization.
These are the people who determine the outcome of elections this year. The question is whether any of these scandals — real, imagined or exaggerated — will turn the political tide in such a way that it will benefit one of the two major political parties to the point something like Obamacare could be passed in Congress.
As of now, if things stay on track and the country winds up with GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, according to head-to-head matchups, Clinton will likely win. That doesn’t mean she would necessarily have a Democratic-controlled Congress to work with — the absence of which means things in national politics would remain relatively unchanged.
Same goes for the current predicament of Alabama politics. Bentley fell out of favor with his tax hike proposal. He did some big things early on with immigration and the teachers’ union. But shortly after being sworn in for a second term, calling for $700 million in new taxes immediately rendered him a lame duck and that would seem to remain the case even with the cloud of controversy over his head.
There’s an entire industry devoted to the blow-by-blow of politics and it fills a demand. People are interested. It’s reality television in Brooks Brothers suits.
But beyond the potential for impeachment, resignation or even indictment of a high-ranking elected official, asking the question “How do the politics of scandal influence elections and/or government policymaking in such a way it impacts your life?” will give you clarity to what really matters.